Sex trafficking increases with high-profile events such as the Kentucky Derby. If you see signs of sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline for guidance.

Amidst the fun and excitement of the Kentucky Derby each year, signs of a dark world arise – the dark world of sex trafficking, particularly of children and teens.

It is a practice that always increases during high-profile events such as the Derby, say providers with the University of Louisville’s Kosair Charities Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine. But armed with knowledge on what to look for, bystanders at the Derby may be able to help sex trafficked youngsters get help.

“The average age of sex trafficked victims ranges from 14 to 17, most are female, and we know that incidences of sex trafficking triple during the Kentucky Derby,” said Emily Neal, RN, a forensic nurse specialist with the Kosair Charities Division of Forensic Pediatric Medicine.

“It is directly a case of supply and demand,” said Jennifer Green, MD, child abuse pediatrics fellow in the UofL Department of Pediatrics. “The more people there are who are willing to purchase other people, the greater the number of people there are who are available to be purchased.”

Green and Neal provide these recommendations on what bystanders can do to recognize potential sex trafficked victims during Derby season:

  • Signs to watch for include young people who may appear overly sexualized for their age, do not possess or have control of their documentation such as driver’s licenses or passports, and who are in the presence of an older, usually male adult, who is controlling them and their behavior.
  • Sexually trafficked victims may have tattoos to “brand” them, such as bar codes or the names of someone other than themselves.
  • They could be wearing clothes that are inappropriate for their age, are too revealing or are not climate appropriate.
  • They could be staying confined to one area, seemingly to “work” that area for customers.
  • They could have signs of trauma: bruises, lesions, black eyes or other marks that raise concern.
  • They could have two or more cell phones in their possession, taking calls from all of them.

If Derby fans see someone they suspect may be a sex trafficked victim, Green and Neal emphasize getting professional help.

“The first step is to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, 1-888-373-7888,” Neal said. “The center will stay on the phone with you to help you get local resources, such as law enforcement, to intervene.”

“If you see direct signs of abuse to a child or are concerned about a child’s safety, involve law enforcement officers immediately and indicate your concerns clearly,” Green added.